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Jane Eyre: An Old Classic Novel for a New Generation of Readers

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I've got that feeling again. It's time to read that glorious book my grandmother gave me. Perhaps my mood has something to do with the snow and the cold and the feeling that I need to escape this Winter Wonderland — as in, "I wonder when it will ever warm up again."

January has always been my favorite month to escape through a good book. Most of my reading is for research purposes, but there are times when I just need some good, old-fashioned fiction. What the world has to offer these days in the way of fiction, even from the conservative sector, leaves much to be desired. I need something from my grandmother's library.

Grandma's library was a dilapidated bookshelf full of every volume which ever caught her fancy at a yard sale. When the soap operas came on while I was visiting, I'd sneak upstairs to the "library" to see what I could find that would be of interest to a bored teenager.

My eyes skipped over the Reader's Digest books, the history and geography texts, and the stack of ten-year-old Goodhousekeeping magazines. I needed something truly enthralling.

On one occasion, a particular volume stood out. It was bigger than the rest, nearly ten inches high, with a worn cloth binding. The gilt lettering was too faded to read, so I slipped it off the shelf to have a closer look.

The scene on the front immediately grabbed my attention. The hardback cover featured a black and white, wood cut illustration of a double line of young girls walking on a cobblestone street. Each was identical with her hair slicked back in a bun and wearing a long, black dress with a starched white collar. Their eyes were dark and downcast with expressions of deep gloom spread across their stark, white faces. All, that is, except one, who looked straight ahead with a defeated expression which typically accompanies a poor soul who knows things will never get any better. 

This was definitely what I was looking for on that dreary, winter day.

The book was a 1943, hardback copy of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. As I opened to the first chapter, I was met with yet another striking illustration. There sat Jane in the window seat, on a dreary, winter day, reading a novel.

Since there was no window seat, I walked across the room and sat on the floor next to the window to have a closer look at this intriguing volume.

"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning: but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question."

That first paragraph drew me into the story, and I could hardly put it down. It must have been a good hour or more before Grandmother made her way up the steep steps to find me.

A smile came across her face as she saw me sitting on the floor with my back against the bed reading that lovely, old novel.

"Do you like that book, Marcia?" she asked. "You may have it if you do."

I thanked her with a true heart of gratitude. I was delighted to take my new-found friend home with me.

For many years afterward I made it a point to read that treasured volume of Jane Eyre when the winter winds began to howl and "out-door exercise was…out of the question." I always wished our home had a window seat to curl up in like Jane found when she lived with the Reeds. However, a comfy recliner near any window would do, just so I could glimpse occasionally from its pages to look out on the gloomy, winter landscape to set the mood.

About Marcia Wilwerding

  • miriam

    You brought it all back to me. I believe I have even seen that cover with the girls in rows. Thanks.